Can Science Explain Morality?

By: Christopher West


Time Magazine recently printed an article by Jeffery Kluger called “What Makes Us Moral” (see Dec 3, 2007 issue).   The tag line reads: “Morality and empathy are writ deep in our genes.   Alas, so are savagery and bloodlust.   Science is now learning what makes us both noble and terrible — and perhaps what can make us better.”


I thought Kluger had several very interesting things to say and I commend this secular magazine for venturing into a discussion about morality.   The whole approach of the article, however, betrays two interrelated diseases plaguing the modern view of man and the universe: materialism and positivism.   Both views ultimately leave us with a terribly impoverished view of ourselves and the universe.   Let me explain.  Materialism is the idea that everything can be explained by material processes.   There is no such thing as the spiritual realm.   Rather than being an integral union of body and soul, the materialist sees the human being as merely a physical body like all the other animals of the planet.   Both empathy and savagery are merely the result of our genes, as Kluger says.   Love, rather than being something spiritual, is just an electrical firing of brain waves.

The fact that scientists can link brain waives with various emotions does not mean that things like love and anger are merely brain waves.   If one has an integral view of the body and the soul, one would expect spiritual realities to have physical manifestations.   When the materialist says, “See those brain waves?   There’s nothing spiritual going on here,” an educated Catholic might   say, “See those brain waves?   That demonstrates the inherent link of the body and the soul.”  As I once wrote in a previous article, so often behind the modern push to equate human beings with animals lies the subtle or not-so-subtle agenda of moral relativism, the rejection of a moral order to which all are accountable.   And so often behind the agenda of moral relativism lies the desire to indulge libido without any restraint — that is, the desire to behave like animals when it comes to sex.


The strange thing about Kluger’s article is that he acknowledges some kind of moral order, that good and bad exist (although any application to sex is copiously absent from his discussion), but he’s looking to explain it materialistically.   As such, his search is doomed from the start.   Morality is rooted in the spiritual dimension of the human being.   Ultimately, it can only be explained philosophically and theologically.   But if one is a true materialist, those sources of knowledge are dismissed out of hand.   The positive sciences are the only way to know anything.   Hence, if one is a materialist, he will also be a positivist.  Positivism (or scientism) is the idea that the positive sciences are able — or, at least, will eventually be able — to explain everything.   “Where do [moral] intuitions come from?” Kluger asks.   “And why are we so inconsistent about following where they lead us?”   Kluger admits, “Scientists can’t yet answer those questions….”   That little word “yet” betrays the modern world’s unbounded faith in Almighty Science.

Science, without a doubt, can tell us and has told us a great deal about the human being in as far as he is a body.   Thank God for all the wonderful benefits that come from that knowledge!   But there is something more to each human being — an inner life, something spiritual — that isn’t contained in the concept “individual member of the species homo sapiens.”   That “something more” is a realm that science, by its very nature, cannot explain.  It’s because of our inner life that we experience wonder, recognize beauty, yearn for love, search for meaning, desire knowledge, and seek understanding.   It’s because of our inner life that we long for truth and goodness and are pained by evil and injustice.   In other words, if Kluger really wants to know “what makes us moral” he’s going to have to have faith in more than just science.

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